Camera Buying Guide
Have you been considering purchasing your first digital camera? Are you confused by all of the industry terminology and unsure what to purchase? If so, you're not alone. Camera manufacturers do a great job building the equipment but not such a good job explaining how it all works. In this guide we'll hopefully make understanding digital cameras a bit easier.
To start with, the biggest thing with digital photography is resolution. With old film cameras it was more about the film you purchased and less about the hardware. But since there's no film involved in the digital camera, hardware is everything when it comes to resolution. The greater the resolution of your camera, the more crisp and clear the pictures will look. That's the bottom line. From there we can talk about other things including storage, internal memory, and so on.
Some of the more common terms you'll need to be familiar with when shopping for a digital camera include:
- megapixel count
- shutter lag and sensor size
- memory card
Megapixel count is a measurement of a camera's resolution. To make it easy to understand, think of one pixel as a single tiny dot on a page. A megapixel is 1 million of those tiny dots. The more dots you have on the page, the better your picture will look because there will be fewer empty spaces for the paper to show through. On a camera with a resolution of 7.2 megapixels, there will be 7.2 million tiny colored dots that make up the picture you see.
The lens is that circular device on the front of the camera responsible for focusing the image you're taking a picture of. In the world of photography the lens can make or break any camera. A high quality lens capable of capturing images clearly and crisply will provide pictures you'll enjoyed looking at for generations. A poor lens is... just a poor lens. Things you might run into in terms of lens specifications include:
- Optical or Digital Zoom - If you know what it means to "zoom in" on the subject you're trying to capture; the only other question is whether you want to do it optically or digitally. A camera with optical zoom actually extends the length of the lens, through mechanical means, to bring the subject closer to the camera. This provides high quality images with no loss of size or resolution. A camera with digital zoom attempts to accomplish the same thing with a digital simulation provided by the cameras and software. The length of the lens never changes.
- Focal Length - Focal length is simply a measurement of how wide a picture-taking range you have to work with. A larger focal length gives you a wider range, a smaller length gives you less range.
- Auto and Manual Focus - Most modern cameras offer both options. With auto focus the camera chooses the most logical object in the field of vision and automatically focuses the lens on it. With manual focus, you can choose the main object yourself and move the lens in and out.
Shutter Lag and Sensor Size
Shutter lag is defined as the amount of time that passes between the moment you press the shutter button and the moment the lens actually opens to take your picture. The shorter that time, the easier it is to take great pictures. As for sensor size, the camera's sensor is the component that receives the image from the lens and converts it into digital information. The larger the size, the more detail you'll notice in your pictures.
The term "flash" can mean a couple of things when dealing with cameras. The most common use of the term describes the built-in light bulb that provides extra light when needed. Other times the term has to do with built-in memory which can be "flashed" in order to upgrade or modify existing software. More often than not, flash specifications will be referring to the light bulb feature.
The memory card is that small, external storage device you plug into your camera or computer. It's where your pictures get stored, if you choose that option. Some cameras have internal memory that can be used instead of a memory card, but it is usually very small and won't allow you to save many pictures. People prefer larger memory cards because they provide more storage and they make it easy to transfer pictures to a computer or have them printed at a retail kiosk.